"only one slice...was necessary to fill the can."
August 24, 2019 10:16 AM   Subscribe

A June Hog is the name for an oversized Chinook salmon. While there's still some debate about why we don't see as many of these fish as we used to, there are still some large fish out there.
posted by jessamyn (10 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
At least we don't have to deal with 30-50 of them every 3-5 minutes
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:47 AM on August 24, 2019 [13 favorites]

I agree with their counterpoint expert quote most of the way through the article:

“It is an interesting twist to blame the marine mammals,” Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island said in an email. “I would first ask how the chinook evolved to be so big during the preceding 12,000 years in the presence of hordes of such size-selective natural predators throughout their range. Large size was selected by Mother Nature for chinook salmon in spite of natural predation.”

Balcomb points to overfishing, habitat loss and salmon hatcheries that have diluted the gene pool of wild chinooks.

posted by Dip Flash at 11:02 AM on August 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

I'm pretty sure that the folks blaming the orcas are barking up the wrong tree: it's been a general fisheries trend for humans to go after the largest fish for quite a while, and it's influenced other species too. That said, generally speaking heavy predation on any any animal population selects for individuals who start breeding early but don't grow to quite the same size they might if reproduction hadn't happened so soon.

Salmon are what's called semelparous, meaning they get exactly one shot at reproducing before they die, so there's a lot of pressure to make that one shot count. If you're a salmon, then, you get to weigh a trade-off: do you go out to sea and stay out long enough to get really huge before you come back, at which point you can make a REAL BIG SPAWN and drown the stream with your gametes, or do you come back as soon as you can and spawn while you're smaller, producing less gametes but relying less on being able to evade predators forever. If salmon travel out to the ocean before spawning and something eats them, they don't get to reproduce at all, so if predation is a big risk... maybe it's better hedging your survival bets and going home to reproduce as a smaller individual with a smaller, but more secure, reproductive investment.

(In several species of salmon, some individuals take this to the extreme and don't bother leaving the natal stream at all: they simply reproduce on the next go-round as reproductively mature parr fish. Generally, the individuals who don't bother to leave are the largest at a given time of year, the ones who can get pretty big and make a fairly good reproductive investment without having to go through a risky savings strategy. It's pretty cool.)

I love this stuff so much. And I'm so pleased to see so many of the king salmon listed having been released alive or found already dead: it's a good technique to help ensure that the big big fish might still be around in centuries to come.
posted by sciatrix at 11:04 AM on August 24, 2019 [9 favorites]

It's both absurd and completely craven to blame anything other than human activity for this change:
From 1970 to 2012, global populations of freshwater megafauna [30+ kg] declined by 88 percent, most notably in the Indomalaya (by 99 percent) and Palearctic (by 97 percent) realms—the former covering South and Southeast Asia and southern China, and the latter covering Europe, North Africa and most of Asia. Large fish species such as sturgeons, salmonids and giant catfishes are particularly threatened: with a 94 percent decline, followed by reptiles with 72 percent.
posted by jamjam at 11:33 AM on August 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

I swear I remember my folks buying a 75 pound salmon to cater a wedding a good 35 years ago. Perhaps I am mistaken.
posted by St. Oops at 11:37 AM on August 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

There has been a lot of attention in the last couple of years to impacts on salmonid populations from predation, particularly from pinnipeds (e.g., sea lions) as well as orcas. And there is truth to it -- after nearly taking them to extinction, populations of sea lions and other species have rebounded thanks to increased protections. Sea lions in particular have learned how to take advantage of anthropogenic barriers and funnel points like locks and dams, too. (There have been previous FPPs about that issue, including one recently I believe.)

But at the same time, while yes, sea mammals are eating more salmon now than a few decades ago when they were nearly extirpated, that impact only matters because of the huge decline in salmonid populations caused by the mainstem and tributary dams, tributary habitat loss, over-fishing, overallocation of water for irrigation, and declining conditions in both the ocean and rivers (e.g., temperatures, food availability, invasive species, pollution, etc). Current fish runs in the northwest are something like 5 percent of their historic levels* (and are continuing to decline), so there isn't any reserve capacity for increased sea mammal predation.

* The estimates of historic populations are pre-European settlement, but include the harvesting of the ~5 or so million fish that tribes and first nations caught annually for thousands of years. It is hard to comprehend the magnitude of how much has been lost in such short a time.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:42 AM on August 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

The monster fish with a length of 53.5 inches and a girth of 38.5 using a formula (endorsed by FOC) of Length x Girth squared divided by 800 would weigh 99.125-pounds… clearly the largest Chinook (Kings as the Americans refer to them) ever landed. Along with witnesses a video was taken and a photograph made from the video.

Hog, indeed!

A report from Fisheries and Oceans Canada on the impact changes in climate and habitat are having on salmon populations was in the news recently (pdf of full report here), and it it notes a few disturbing trends:

Climate change and habitat alteration are destabilizing salmon freshwater habitats. Many freshwater habitats are becoming less productive for early salmon life stages due to increased sedimentation and landslides, and alteration of river hydrology. These changes are caused by an increased frequency of extreme rain events and droughts, coupled with deforestation and other human activities.

No single factor can explain all of the recent observed patterns in salmon abundances. Along with ecosystem changes, fisheries, hatcheries, disease, and contaminants can also affect salmon. There are many gaps in our understanding regarding how all factors act alone or cumulatively to affect salmon population trends, and how these factors will interact with climate change.

Chinook salmon abundances are declining throughout their B.C. and Yukon range. Chinook are also returning to spawn at younger ages, their sizes are decreasing for a given age, and egg numbers and egg sizes are decreasing. Chinook might be particularly sensitive to changes in freshwater, given their site-specific adaptations to spawning and rearing habitats. There are exceptions to these declines, such as populations that spawn on the East Coast of Vancouver Island. Many Sockeye and Coho population abundances are declining in southern latitudes. A numberof these populations are considered Endangered or Threatened by COSEWIC. Some Sockeye in southern B.C. are faring better than others, including Sockeye that occupy more remote, high altitude lake habitats for juvenile rearing. More recently, some northern Sockeye populations have also declined

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:00 PM on August 24, 2019

"You're gonna need a bigger fish cannon."
posted by JackFlash at 4:15 PM on August 24, 2019

I swear I remember my folks buying a 75 pound salmon to cater a wedding a good 35 years ago. Perhaps I am mistaken.

The first time I ever visited Seattle (~1982) was to attend my then partner's sister's wedding. The couple was down from Anchorage, for to make things easy for attendees, and the reception featured a salmon as big as my leg, beautifully decorated. I was astounded that they got to that size.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:11 PM on August 24, 2019

Man some of the people holding up those heavy fish must be strong, I would never guess that some of the fish were that heavy based on the ease they're being held up with, like that 1949 Alaska guy casually displaying the 126 pound chonkfish.
posted by foxfirefey at 10:43 PM on August 24, 2019

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